In an article for the New York Times, medical doctor Perri Klass highlights the importance of making sure your kids learn the lost art of handwriting — and cites a recent study that connects the cursive writing skills with advantages in spelling and composition.
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Why handwriting gives kids an edge
An article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy last year cited the connections between good handwriting and academic achievement. Dr. Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University found two reasons for this: 1. Kids who had good handwriting may get better grades because their content is more pleasant to read and 2., youngsters who struggle with writing may be too consumed with the writing itself, and their work suffers.
She also found that in low-income children, those who had good writing skills in pre-kindergarten did better in school later on.
In another study, Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington found evidence to indicate that ‘forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.’
She says of the importance of children learning to write, ‘This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong. We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.’
She further commented that brain imaging shows this brain region activates differently in children who have trouble with handwriting; you have to ‘see’ the letters in your minds eye in order to put pen to paper.
Another professor found this to be true. In a series of brain scans of children who did not yet know how to print, “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” said Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University.
Even college students benefit from handwriting when taking notes in class. “College students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand,” said Dr. Dinehart.
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The best of both worlds
Although it seems the skill of handwriting, and especially cursive, is helpful to kids in their other studies, researchers are citing the importance of both handwriting and typing in today’s modern world.
“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Dr. Berninger. ‘Manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.’
All of this research seems to suggest that handwriting plays an important role in cognitive development and learning, and should not be tossed aside as we become more tech savvy as a culture.